As of 2020-2021, the number of students enrolled in school in Ontario was 2,025,258. Each year, these students make their way to class by walking, biking, and taking the bus. Drivers must take precautions to account for an increase in traffic and dangers as children return to school. According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, 16,000 school buses transport over 800,000 students every day. School bus travel is typically very safe, but did you know the majority of injuries and fatalities occur outside buses in the school zones? It is important for drivers to practice safe driving in school zones; both to keep children safe and keep a driver’s car insurance premium low.

Time for school

A study done by CAA in 2019, shows that nearly 50% of Canadians witnessed a distracted driver in a school zone, with 25% of Canadians witnessing a near miss or collision in a school zone with a child. In order to keep our future doctors, firefighters and IT wizards safe, Ontario drivers must abide by the school zone speed limit signs. They are typically on school and municipal property around any Ontario elementary, middle, or secondary school.

What is a school zone?

A school zone is an area on a street near a school or crosswalk leading to a school that has young pedestrians. School zones are known by the yellow sign featuring silhouettes of two school children walking. There will also be signs that alert drivers of the reduction in speed. There is often crossing guards and road markings to alert drivers for an upcoming school zone.

Penalties for not being safe in a school zone

In Ontario, fines can be up to 60% higher in school zones than traditional traffic violations. The fine depends on how fast you are going over the school zone speed limit. Fines over 20km/hr can lead to demerit points.

Points from the MTO for all drivers should consider:

  • Drivers must stop for a school bus with red lights flashing.
  • Fines for not stopping can range up to $2,000, and a first offence will carry six demerit points.
  • A second conviction within five years will result in a fine of up to $4,000, plus six demerit points. You may also face jail time for up to six months.
  • School-bus drivers, along with other witnesses, can report vehicles that illegally pass a school bus. If your car is reported, you can be subject to fines (but no demerit points or jail time).

Can you report drivers disobeying rules in the school zone?

If you notice anyone who is not being a safe driver in a school zone or did not stop for a school bus, you can report it immediately to police by calling 911. On the call, you should have the following information ready:

  • Incident: Date, time (AM or PM), location, direction of travel.
  • Driver information: Driver description (male or female, age, hair, etc).
  • Vehicle information: Licence plate (number, province), vehicle (year, make, model, colour, car/truck/bicycle/other, any other features (i.e. trailer hitch, modified parts, etc).
  • Details of incident: Type of school bus (small or large), if bus was stopped or had lights flashing, and if passengers were boarding or leaving the bus.
  • Your information: Name, address, phone number and date of birth.

Practicing safety around school buses

Ontario drivers are subject to strict laws around school zones and buses. Here are some general rules to keep in mind when driving:

  • On the road WITHOUT a median strip, drivers travelling in both directions must stop for a school bus when both its upper red lights are flashing. At a stop, drivers travelling in the opposite direction are required to stop at what the driver considers a safe distance for students to cross the road.
  • When a road has a median strip, only vehicles following the bus are required to stop.
  • When stopping behind a bus, you must allow a minimum of 20 metres of space from the bus.
  • Drivers must stop for a school bus at any time, not just during school hours.
  • In traffic, avoid “cutting” in front of a bus. Many bus drivers leave a safe following distance between the bus and car ahead of them to ensure a safer environment for passengers. Even if your car can fit into the space, drivers should always avoid cutting in front of a bus or transit vehicle.

Obey school crossing guards

Many school zones have crossing guards at crosswalks. Ontario drivers are required to obey a crossing guard’s instructions to stop. When a guard displays a stop sign, you MUST remain stopped until everyone, including the guard, is safely off the roadway.

Slow down in school zones

The school zone speed limit is between 30 to 40 km/h. These speed limits are in effect from 8AM until 5PM on weekdays from September to June, but kids can be present outside of these hours, too! Slow down when you see a school sign and make sure that the area around is clear before proceeding through. Some municipalities, like Toronto, have installed photo radar to help enforce these speed limits.

Familiarize yourself with school pick-up procedures

When the bell goes off, children anxious to get home may not be as mindful of safety, so drivers need to take extra care. Follow the rules at your school on where to park and pick up. Drive slowly with extra care, avoiding unnecessary risks.

Be a safe and responsible driver

With so many distractions during the back-to-school season, especially with the added stress of COVID-19, give yourself extra time for drop off by leaving a little earlier. A few additional minutes to reduce the stress of driving can go a long way to make your child’s commute to school more enjoyable and safer for all.

Keep your insurance premiums low

When you’re caught driving over the speed limit in school zones, you’ll likely face a mandatory fine and you can gain 3-6 demerit points. Accumulating demerit points is a sure-fire way to increase your insurance rates. Not only will you suffer higher insurance premiums, but you may also be faced with fewer companies to choose from and less coverage options.

There are many factors that affect the cost of insurance, including demerit points, careless driving and speeding tickets. Speeding fines can lead to a 20% increase in your auto premiums and some companies will take away any good driver discount you have if they find out about it. In addition, your increase in car rates can last as long as 3-5 years, depending on your insurance company.

The best advice is to follow the rules of the road, especially around school buses and school zones. Avoiding tickets and accidents is the best way to keep your car insurance rates low. At isure, we will make sure you have the right insurance protection if something happens, but we cannot undo a car accident, especially if someone is hurt (or worse.)

Kids are excited to be back at school, so let’s keep them safe when driving in school zones!

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